Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter S - SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

There is a new spirit and attitude regarding the relationship between science and religion. Today, more and more scholars, including leading scientists, theologians, and philosophers are characterizing the relationship as complementary and interactive. This positive, complementary, and interactive view has not always been the dominant view. In fact, throughout most of history, two alternative views have prevailed. The first view, more ancient, conflated science and religion such that the two were indistinguishable. We see this in the medieval designation of theology as the "queen of the sciences." We see this even more clearly in primal and ancient religions, which provided religious explanations for natural events-such as the ancient Greeks' explanation that the sun moves across the sky because it is pulled by Apollo and his team of horses.

The Enlightenment Era and the development of modern science during the 18th and 19th centuries brought a new dominant view of the relationship between science and religion, one that saw science as replacing religion and one that promoted a secular faith in reason and in a scientific approach to reality. This new dominant view was reinforced by the dazzling array of explanations that developed out of scientific inquiry, explanations of everything from how leaves make use of light to how spiders spin webs, to how babies learn a language, to how stars are born and die. The enormous power of modern science both to explain the universe and to support the development of new technology made religion seem obsolete-a holdover from primitive times, a crutch for those who need comfort, and a poor and childish substitute for scientific reasoning.

However, a number of 20th-century developments both within science and within the philosophy of science changed our view of science-by emphasizing that science and religion have much in common. The newer view shows just how much science, like religion, is influenced and defined by worldviews and frameworks for thinking, by faith in what cannot be observed, and by value judgments.

Nowhere is this newer view of science shown more clearly than in the current talk of paradigms, models, and metaphors. Philosophers of science have shown that modern science has developed not so much by adding new facts as by replacing old paradigms. For example, the universe viewed as a giant machine worked well as a paradigm, model, and root metaphor during Newton's time and long thereafter. However, when physicists turned their attention to explaining the structure of light and other incredibly fast-moving phenomena, a different paradigm, model, and root metaphor were needed.

In a similar vein, scientists and philosophers of science have come to stress how science, like religion, relies on faith in what cannot be directly observed. For example, without directly observing electrons, scientists have used the atomic model as an invaluable conceptual tool for explaining reality.

Finally, scientists and philosophers of science have shown how much values and value judgments influence what questions are asked as well as influence how scientists observe, categorize, measure, and explain. Perhaps the most infamous example is that of the scientific racism that developed during the 19th century and continued to develop well into the 20th century. Thinking they were merely describing the facts and measuring objectively, 19th- and 20th-century biologists and social scientists defined and measured human intelligence in ways that overvalued how they themselves thought and undervalued how groups different from themselves thought. Values, not facts and objectivity, guided their research on intelligence to produce a distorted and damaging view of human diversity. In summary, the old view that science can replace religion because only science is objective is no longer the dominant view. Within the scientific community as well as within the community of philosophers studying science, the dominant view now is that science, like religion, is inevitably dependent on paradigms, models, and metaphors, dependent on faith in what cannot be seen directly, and dependent on making value judgments. Because science and religion are now seen as having much in common, does this mean that today we are reverting back to when science and religion were conflated and treated as a single, undifferentiated enterprise? Not at all. The emerging view today suggests that science and religion have complementary and interactive roles. On one hand, science must explain the material universe and in so doing, foster in us a spiritual and ethical relationship with the universe. On the other hand, religion must take the lead in defining our individual and collective responsibilities for living in our universe. Nowhere do we see this complementary and interactive view of science and religion more clearly than in current discussions of the ecological crisis. By most accounts, there has been a serious degradation of our natural environment. Urban sprawl has replaced scenic countryside. Rivers that once provided drinking and bathing water now offer neither. Air that once was clean is now polluted, and valuable species of wildlife that once appeared in abundance are now extinct. These and other negative developments having to do with the natural environment have, on one hand, raised complex questions about the use of technology and science to exploit the natural environment, and on the other hand, raised equally complex questions about traditional religious views of our relationship with nature. Today, then, there are fascinating conversations going on between scientists, theologians, and moral philosophers regarding how best to conceptualize this ecological crisis.

These conversations have led to changes on both sides of the science-religion relationship. On science's side, we see a marked increase in the use of the term spiritual to capture the feelings and attitude that scientists have and want all of us to have toward that which they are explaining. That is, scientists now speak of their finding intrinsic spiritual meaning in understanding how nature and the universe work. Rather than opposing religion, then, scientists now see their work as a way to deepen our spiritual sense of how all of life is interconnected.

On religion's side, we see theologians and moral philosophers questioning traditional dominion views of the human-nature relationship. Dominion views often have humans located above nature and below God-with nature existing for the pleasure and good of humans. Whatever the nuances might be in any given dominion view, all dominion views imply that humans can justify their actions solely on the basis of what is best for humans.

With the ecological crisis, many are questioning dominion views and substituting for them a view that gives nature rights and treats humans as co-inhabitants of the universe alongside nonhuman life forms. That is, today, in the ecology movement, human animals are accepting their place in the world as fellow creatures alongside nonhuman animals and learning from nature about what might be a deeper, more spiritual ethic stressing the intrinsic value of biodiversity. Today, then, around certain issues such as how to prevent further degradation of our natural environment, science and religion have become partners, not adversaries, in order to help better define our relationship with the universe so that we live more meaningful, more responsible, and more spiritual lives.